Two of the most talked about indie films of 2022 (so far) have hit streaming. Should you check them out?
Everything Everywhere All at Once
A24 has become the cinephile’s go-to studio, a studio with an impressive slate of films that reach critical, awards, and fan success. And now they have box office success, with Everything Everywhere becoming the studio’s highest-grossing film since Hereditary and nearing the 100 million dollar mark. Part of the film’s success has no doubt been how it has been marketed as a “multiverse” movie, even going up against Marvel’s Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. The film follows laundromat owner Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) as she and her sweet and meek husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) go to the IRS to undergo an audit. It is there that Evelyn is found by a variant of Waymond from another universe who tells Evelyn she is the chosen one and must defeat an evil force that has taken over the body of Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). The film jumps through several multiverses as Evelyn has to fight to save Joy, and more importantly, save her relationships with her husband and daughter and discover more about herself.
While multiverse fatigue has set in for some people, it hasn’t for me. I was excited by the idea of taking the multiverse premise and using it on a small scale, stripping the superhero-level scale and stakes and instead making it about one family, with mundane yet universal problems like taxes, familial strife, and personal dissatisfaction. And the movie is at its best when it sticks to this premise, using the multiverse to bring out the drama in the small-scale problems of the characters.
But the movie then tries to go bigger than that and incorporate magic, huge existential forces, and a bigger intergalactic scale, and that’s when the movie, to me, loses its spark. The middle section of the film is incredibly chaotic, with directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (known as “The Daniels”) seemingly throwing every visual and joke they can at the wall and seeing what sticks. This is how you get a movie that has a scene of people trying to stick things up their butt (it’s just as painful to watch as it sounds) right beside a touching scene of a daughter pleading with her mother just to take a moment to listen to her. Or a scene of people with hot dogs for fingers next to a scene with a husband telling his wife that her cynicism and bitterness is poisoning their marriage and he wants her to see kindness as a strength. Brilliant, intimate moments next to slapstick, gross-out shenanigans.
There is a thematic reason for all the absurdity: the characters in the movie come to see that the world is chaotic, absurd, even meaningless. However, we have the power then to create our own meaning, and that meaning should be being kind and loving to the people around us, letting go of resentment, and finding meaning in the mundane parts of life (like laundry and taxes). But I think this message gets lost in the chaos and absurdity, and I think the movie revels in just how gross it can be, which undercuts its better moments.
You’ll have to find your mileage. Some people love the more absurd, gross-out, wilder elements of the film. It’s not my cup of tea, but I appreciate the creativity and originality and boldness to try a lot of stuff, and while I think this chaos hides the best parts of the movie, the best parts of the movie are still there.
Maybe we don’t need more multiverse movies, but if we are going to keep getting them, I’d rather them be more in this vein, with the multiverse concept being used to focus on character drama and a smaller scope but with higher emotional stakes. I could do without the dildos, nihilism, and everything bagels, but you do you, Daniels.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
In The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, actor Nick Cage (played by Nicolas Cage), needing some money, agrees to make an appearance at the birthday party of a billionaire superfan Javi (Pedro Pascal). Once Cage gets there and begins to bond with Javi, he learns Javi might be up to some criminal activity, the kind of activity only an accomplished actor like Nick Cage can thwart!
Okay, you may be asking. So…. is this film just a big ego boost for Nicolas Cage? Or is it, like, a joke? Is it a fictionalized biopic? What is it?
Good question. It’s ultimately a celebration of actors like Nicolas Cage, actors who have ingrained themselves in the pop culture lexicon for their range of films, charisma, star power, likeability, and the sincere intensity and commitment they seem to bring to every role. Remember the scene of Keanu Reeves playing himself in Always Be My Maybe? It’s like a feature-length version of that, wrapped up in a buddy-comedy action movie. There’s talk of Nick’s real-life movies and career trajectory, but his personal life in the film is completely different from the real Cage. Cage himself says this movie-Cage is not much like him, but the film blurs the lines between Cage the real person, Cage the real actor, Cage the persona, and Cage the fictional actor in this movie, so much so that it’s hard to tell where each Cage stops and starts. And that’s kinda the point; you get to be swept up into this funny little fantasy about Nick Cage and the joy of making movies, while also watching an action flick.
While it’s Nick Cage’s movie, Pedro Pascal steals the show. He matches Cage, even surpasses him, beat-for-beat in every scene, bringing a more-laid-back charm that matches Cage’s intensity in surprising and complementary ways. Without him, it wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does.
When the film begins to turn into Nicolas Cage: Action Star in the third act, like Everything Everything All at Once, I think it moves away from its best elements in order to be a bit more action-oriented and mainstream. But the chemistry between Cage and Pascal, beautiful locales, and laugh-out-loud funny moments make it a worthwhile watch. It’s a good-natured half meta spoof, half decent-but-generic action movie, all with a dose of heart. It may not live up to its hyperbolic title, but if you like Nick Cage at all, or like movies about movies, or already saw The Lost City and want something similar, then it’s worth checking out.
– Madeleine D.